A 69-year-old city man has received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to extort €5,000 from Cllr Michael Fahy by claiming he had information that would clear the Ardrahan councillor of fraud charges.
Padraic Walsh of 117 Friar’s Hill changed his plea to guilty on the second day of his trial for the attempted theft of €5,000 from Cllr Fahy without his consent contrary to common law and Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 2001 between December 23 2008 and April 4 2009.
Described by his own defence barrister as “a Walter Mitty character”, Walsh was given a 12 month suspended prison sentence for the offence.
Galway Circuit Criminal Court heard this week that Walsh rang Cllr Fahy on December 23 2008, when Cllr Fahy was making funeral arrangements for his mother, who had just passed away, stating that his name was David Wallace and he had “shocking information” which could clear the councillor of fraud charges. Cllr Fahy was preparing to appeal the charge at the time. Walsh initially asked for €250,000 for the information, but in subsequent calls this amount dropped to €5,000.
Cllr Fahy was convicted in February 2007 under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act in relation to the use of a community scheme to erect fencing on his land. These convictions were quashed on appeal and a retrial was ordered. In December 2008 the veteran councillor was convicted of one charge of fraud, which is now also under appeal.
It was against this background that Walsh began calling Cllr Fahy, making some 20 calls according to Garda John Keating who said in evidence that Walsh claimed to be a high ranking civil servant who sometimes deputised for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The common theme of his calls was that he had information on tape which would exonerate Cllr Fahy in his court appeal and was willing to exchange the tapes for money.
Cllr Fahy contacted gardaí to tell them of Walsh’s claims, and a surveillance operation was set up. Cllr Fahy agreed to meet Walsh at the Four Courts in Dublin, purportedly to exchange the tapes for €5,000 in cash. When Cllr Fahy went to the toilet, gardaí moved in and arrested Walsh who was found in possession of a brown envelope containing two CDs, a floppy disc, and a cassette tape. None of the items appeared to have material relevant to Cllr Fahy.
Garda Keating told the court that three more scenarios were suggested to him by Walsh — that a family looking for a house on the council list would bribe Cllr Fahy for €5,000, that a young girl would go on a date with Cllr Fahy and then present herself to Gort Garda station, and if they did not work, it was suggested that a hitman would be arranged to eliminate Cllr Fahy.
Garda Keating also said Walsh claimed on the day he met Cllr Fahy in Dublin that he was also going to meet Bono “across the river” in the Clarence hotel.
Walsh changed his plea to guilty yesterday morning.
The court heard Walsh has a previous conviction from Galway District Court for receiving stolen property in 1998 and two convictions for malicious damage and larceny dating back to the seventies.
Noting that yesterday was Walsh’s 69th birthday, Judge Raymond Groarke said he had “no present” for him and hoped he had gained “an insight into the foolishness of his actions”. He described it as “a mean offence, preying on the vulnerability and the particular circumstances of the victim, Cllr Fahy”.
Judge Groarke also criticised the waste of Garda resources and said it was “an extremely expensive case on the State and that's all down to you, Mr Walsh”.
Taking into account his age, his co-operation with the gardaí, and the unlikelihood of his re-offending, he sentenced Padraic Walsh to 12 months in prison, suspended on condition he keep the peace for two years.
Afterwards Cllr Michael Fahy said he was “pleased” with the outcome of the case.